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MJS

Making Dulcimers

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Hi just found your site and joined as I wanted to get back into making dulcimers. I built my first dulcimer in 2004 it was and elliptical or teardrop shape. Then changed jobs and didn't have time to get back into it.

Over the past 3 years I have started again and built a Uke along with about 15 different cigar box/license plate guitars. Everything from non-fretted to fretted with full electrics.Which got me wanting to gt back to the dulcimer as I really enjoyed the whole process.

Again my first one was scratch built from a design I found,  it had a scroll type head stock with mechanical style tuners, a fret board which was cut away under neath and then glued to two pieces under each edge to make the top. However, this time I want to make a Hourglass style but still undecided as to the head stock. I know see people are making them with a flat head stock pretty much like the cigar box guitars or a regular guitar. Not really sure what difference it makes is it sound or ease of built for the flat style vs the Scroll stye, or personal preference?

I noticed in the previous comments NoteMan said that building plans are not common. However, I did notice in one of his photos his partially build dulcimer was laying on what appear to be a template/diagram, and was wondering if the was his own design or a bought plan? KWL suggested a plan from Elderly and I wasn't sure if this was a good place to start or if you all recommended some place else for a good template/design to start with?

Also it appear if I am reading correctly you don't need to make the fret board semi hollow underneath and use two pieces for a sound board like my first dulcimer. But rather you can use a solid fret board across the top of a one piece sound board or am I mistaken? I also see that on some designs from internet photos the sides are glued along the edge of the top and bottom block, and some of the blocks have slits cut into them to hold the sides. Again personal preference or doest it make for a stronger build?

Sorry for all the questions but appears there have been some changes since I built my first one , and although I liked my first one I want to make my next one better just as I did in making my cigar box guitars.

I was planning on a walnut back and sides with either a spruce or cedar top, wasn't sure for the fret boar as yet. Any suggestions or input would be much appreciated.

Thank you,

MJS

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Take a look at the 'new builder looking for advice' post here if you haven't already. It may give you a good start

I try to use 1/4 swan wood for the fretboard, trying to keep warping to a minimum.

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Welcome!  It sounds like you have some fun times ahead building a new dulcimer.  I'll try to answer a couple of your questions.  As @Skip mentioned, the 'New building looking for advice' thread may be helpful to you.

4 hours ago, MJS said:

I know see people are making them with a flat head stock pretty much like the cigar box guitars or a regular guitar. Not really sure what difference it makes is it sound or ease of built for the flat style vs the Scroll stye, or personal preference?

I think there's a few reasons for the flat head style becoming more popular.  On one hand it can be easier / more natural to use the tuners as it puts the knob of standard tuning machines on the side where pegs would normally be.  Using them on a traditional scroll head they end up on top and are can be a little harder to work with (though by no means difficult).  Planetary geared tuners can put the knobs on the side of a scroll, but they tend to be more expensive than standard tuning machines.  So I think that's part of it.

Another part is that a scroll can be more work to make.  The two ways they're typically built are drilling and chiseling out a solid block of wood, which can be a decent amount of work.  Alternatively they can be made by sandwiching layers of wood together, which is a bit easier. 

Another reason a flat head may be preferred is ease of access when changing the strings.  If they're down in a scroll it can add some minor difficulty when trying to put the string in the tuner and wind it.  It's a little easier to work with on top a flat head.

They're all minor things, but flat heads have definitely become more common in recent years.

4 hours ago, MJS said:

I noticed in the previous comments NoteMan said that building plans are not common.

There's a couple options out there.  Construction the Mountain Dulcimer by Kimball has full plans for a dulcimer build.  From the other thread, Making Musical Instruments by Irving Sloan has dulcimer plans that @Dylan Holderman might be able to give you more info about.  I bought another book last year called Potpourri - Appalachian Mountain Dulcimer by James Hall Jr. that includes dulcimer plans as well.

4 hours ago, MJS said:

I was planning on a walnut back and sides with either a spruce or cedar top, wasn't sure for the fret boar as yet. Any suggestions or input would be much appreciated.

Sounds like a good choice of woods.  Walnut with a soft wood top (spruce, cedar, butternut) seems to be pretty common.  For the fretboard I think you'd want to stick with some type of hardwood like walnut.

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I'll try to answer a few of you questions. Flat or "guitar-style" peg heads have become popular because it is easier to restring a dulcimer with a flat peg head. Some folks find it difficult to change strings on closed scroll peg heads.It really comes down to a matter of personal preference and what sells. The type of tuning peg you use sometimes dictates the type of peg head you use as your already noted.

Again, whether or not to hollow out the fret board is a personal choice which had little overall effect on the sound of the dulcimer. You can find examples of both on older dulcimers. 

Walnut is a good wood for dulcimers. You can even use it for the top. I have an all walnut dulcimer which is top, sides, bottom, peg head, and fret board. Spruce and cedar work well also. The dulcimers made in the early days of dulcimer history were made from whatever wood the builder could acquire; pine, poplar, cherry, walnut, maple, birch, chestnut, oak, etc. For the most part, the idea of using a soft wood for the top like on guitars, mandolins, violins, etc., came in to vogue with the "dulcimer revival."  The "old" builders used one wood throughout the instrument. Of course, there are exceptions to that statement!

A good number of the dulcimers I have made have walnut fret boards. I have also used poplar and maple, but any hardwood will do. From my experience it is more difficult to hammer frets in to maple than walnut.

Hope some of this information helps. Keep asking question.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

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Thnk you all for the great tips, advise and information. Looks like I now need to finds plans for an hour glass with the flat type head stock.

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